Friday, March 31, 2006

Assignment: Save the Guinea Worm!

The Guinea Worm is an African parasite that can in all fairness be called hideous. Spaghetti-thin and ranging up to three feet in length, it spends its life tunneling slowly through its human hosts, mostly just under the skin. Then, when it's ready to spawn, it secretes an acid that causes an excruciatingly painful blister, which in turn causes its host to plunge the afflicted body part into water, whereupon the worm erupts from the blister and spews forth its larvae.

(For a more detailed description, as well as photos that are most definitely not for the squeamish, see this New York Times article.)

The one bright thing about the Guinea Worm is that it has no other animal vector or host. The adult worm lives only in humans, and it is spread only by drinking water contaminated with larvae. The larvae can be killed with a simple, safe, and common pesticide, or barring that, they can readily be filtered out. It should be fairly easy to eradicate this pest, and in fact, thanks in part to the efforts of former president Jimmy Carter, there were fewer than 12,000 cases reported last year.


But what if the truth really is a matter of your point of view? What if Ingrid Newkirk of PETA is right when she says "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy," and the Guinea Worm has every bit as much right to life and the pursuit of happiness as those heartless monsters who are conducting genocidal war against it? What if we should be thinking, not of 12,000 human cases of a loathesome and disfiguring disease, but of just 12,000 breeding areas still left for this potentially valuable and definitely endangered rain forest species?

That's your assignment for this weekend: write a one-paragraph synopsis of your story that looks at the potential extinction of the Guinea Worm from the perspective of an animal rights activist. And remember; it's from the rain forest, so it's got to be good!

Catch you Monday,